Doctor and patient

Be prepared, ask questions, listen, take notes, ask about referrals and costs

Health care can be complicated and even confusing. The best way for you to avoid being overwhelmed by uncertainty is to become health-care literate. This doesn’t just mean learning terms for body parts and illnesses, it also means knowing how to talk to your doctors so you have a better understanding of how to follow recommendations, take medications correctly and take charge of your health.

If you don’t understand the information given to you by your doctors, you are more likely to be in poor health, which is why it is important for everyone to know how to talk to their doctor.

Talking openly with your doctor and getting the most from your appointments may also help you reduce your out-of-pocket costs. By being engaged and more proactive with your health, you may be able to avoid issues that are more complex and the need for additional care.

Here are some tips you can use when talking to your doctors.

Be prepared. Being prepared can make a big difference in the success of your appointment with your doctor. You should have a general list of questions that you would like the answers to, such as:

  • What should I do to prevent or delay health problems?
  • Are there tests or screenings I should have?
  • Am I due for vaccines?

You should have a list of all prescription and over-the counter medications, other drugs, vitamins and any herbal remedies you are currently taking. You should also make note of any nutritional drinks or shakes, herbal teas, energy drinks, coffee and alcohol you drink.

Always be prepared to ask questions directly related to the reason for your visit, even if it’s just a routine check-up. Why this check-up now?

Being prepared for an appointment will show your doctor that you are engaged and ready to do your part to maintain good health.

Listen. During an appointment, you should ask questions and then listen diligently while the doctor responds. You may even want to have a piece of paper with you to take notes or the doctor will provide one upon request.

Ask for clarification when needed. You should feel empowered to ask for clarification if you don’t understand something. Repeat the information back to the doctor and ask if you have understood properly.

Before leaving the appointment, you should know what your main issue is, what you need to do to treat it, and why the recommended treatment is important. If you aren’t clear on these three points, you need ask for clarification.

Ask about referrals. You should pay close attention to any referrals that the doctor orders. Don’t hesitate to ask, “Why are we doing this?” You need to understand the need for the referral and the expected outcome. You should understand the need, expected outcome and whether or not these services are being requested diagnostically or if it will help your condition.

If you are insured, consider the network. If you are insured, you likely have specific doctors and facilities in the network. Whether or not the doctor or facility you are being referred to is in-network will impact the cost of the follow-up visit. If the service provider is not in-network, you should ask if an alternative of equal medical quality is available.

Ask about further tests. Don’t hesitate to ask about the need and expected outcome when being referred for lab tests, imaging or other outpatient services

Don’t hesitate to ask about costs. When lab, imaging or outpatient services are requested, you should also pay close attention to where you are being referred, and you shouldn’t be afraid to ask if there are alternatives. Freestanding facilities may have less out-of-pocket costs than services received at the hospital, so you should talk to your doctor about your concerns and finding the service provider that is best for you.

Ask questions until you get answers. When you are diagnosed with a health problem, you need to understand, in common language, what the issue is. Again, being prepared, asking questions and really listening while your doctor responds can go a long way in understanding your condition. Some of the common questions you should ask about your condition include:

  • What is the name of the condition?
  • How it is spelled?
  • What does it mean?
  • What may have caused it?
  • How long it will last?

You should also inquire about treatment options for your condition and how you can learn more.

It’s your responsibility to take control of your health and control your health care spending.

Source: Anthem HealthLink,

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